Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Film: The Top 10 of 2011


A gorgeous film from writer-director Lars Von Trier, this meditation on depression and anxiety in the face of the end of the world as we know it is, of all the films this year, wrought to perfection in every aspect.  It's a film that left me, as I posted last year, slack-jawed with awe. Read my full review.


It was hard to decide between Melancholia and this film for first choice;  Melancholia won out because it seems to me to a perfectly realized and executed film.  Writer-director Terence Malick's movie is as powerful, but it has its lapses in continuity and logic that make it as messy as life.  Which in some ways is its point, but it seems to me that, in art, we desire more coherence.  Read my full review.


Last year, David Fincher's The Social Network was #1 on my year-end list.  He knocked me out this year as well with this adaptation written by one of our best screenwriters, Steve Zaillian.  And Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross delivered another outstanding score.  David Fincher is one of the most adroit directors America currently has.  Read my full review of Dragon Tattoo.


I have quibbles with this movie (the tomato/blood imagery is symbolically heavy-handed in a movie that isn't inherently stylized; it's hard to buy that mom never even tried taking Kevin or herself to a therapist--which I'm told she does in the novel by Lionel Shriver, from which the film was adapted).  But overall, this is one of the most devastatingly affective and frightening films I've ever seen.  I drove back to L.A. late at night from Palm Springs after seeing this at the film festival there, and I had to blast rock 'n' roll to keep myself from major creepout.  Tilda Swinton is always outstanding, but she deserved an Oscar nomination for her depiction here of a mother with a disturbed, insecure attachment to her son, Kevin, played by a truly scary Ezra Miller as a teenager with Conduct Disorder (and ultimately Antisocial Personality Disorder--the clinical term for sociopaths/psychopaths/career criminals).  Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood  did a beautiful job with the music (he also scored There Will Be Blood).  Directed by Lynne Ramsay; co-written by Ramsay and Rory Kinnear; exec produced by, among others, Swinton and Steven Soderbergh.


Writer-director-producer-star Evan Glodell's apocalyptic love story is, to use Glodell's phrase, a "weird-ass movie" about two characters shrugging toward manhood via their Mad Max fantasy of an ideal gang, the Medusa, embodied by their flame-throwing modified 1972 Buick Skylark.  Glodell's character is a slacker puer aeternus who finds his own personal Medusa in a young woman, Milly (Jessie Weissman), who betrays him; love doesn't just hurt, it devastates.  Glodell wrote this film coming out of a year of suffering after a break-up.  Only 31 at the time, he not only directed and starred, but also customized a digital camera for the film, as well as the Medusa car and a beat-up Volvo with a whiskey dispenser in the dash that has a prominent role in the film.  The film has a distinctive look (cinematographer Joel Hodge gives it an eerie orange glow) and editing, and a terrific complementing score by Jonathan Keevil (who wrote and performed several songs).  An amazing, perfect, first feature that Glodell made for only $17,000 (read how at http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/09/01/bellflower-evan-glodell/).  Here's the trailer:

6.  HUGO

I'm just going to say it:  Marty Scorsese is a national treasure.  I feel honored that I have lived in his same age--along with the Beatles and the Stones (let us not forget Scorsese's Shine A Light, in which I particularly loved his scenes of near panic over not having the Stones' set list).  Scorsese is the godfather of contemporary American cinema, and Hugo is a testament to his love of the movies--it is actually a history of the birth of cinema.  John Logan adapted Brian Selznick's book; Asia Butterfield stars as the orphaned Hugo Cabret, who lives in the walls of a train station and operates the clocks.  The kid is wonderful, the 3D is great, and Marty and editor Thelma Schoonmaker are at the top of their powers.  I saw this movie with dear friends on Christmas Day, and I have to admit, my eyes were misty over it all.


One of the most astonishing films released this year is California native Christian Marclay's The Clock, which was shown at LACMA in Los Angeles.  It's a completely mesmerizing film about film and time:  it's composed of clips from old films that reference clocks; the times in the film correspond precisely to the time it is when the viewer is watching the Marclay film!  I can't even begin to imagine what a herculean task this was.  And it's hard to describe how completely captivating watching this film/art piece is.  Time just seems to slip away.  My only regret is that I saw it late on the last night it played, and only the last hour....


Surprised?  Yes, a broad comedy is on my top ten list.  We all need laugh therapy, and this film delivered!  I have to confess that I roared even during the big gross-out scene, which I really didn't expect to do.  Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumulo (Paul Feig directed) is a revelation here--never has she been more appealing or her acting more inspired (to wit, her scene on the airplane after she's given some pills--and liquor--to calm her fear of flying).  I also loved the scenes with Wiig and Officer Nathan Rhodes (the equally appealing Chris O'Dowd).  Melissa McCarthy is hilarious in a big way.  The international trailer is best, and here's the link--I guarantee you will remember how sweet and funny this movie is:



This could almost be a still from Melancholia, right?  Talk about synchronicity:  two films in 2011 about new planets appearing in our skies!  This one, written by star Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, directed by Cahill, is a story about grief and guilt and redemption...and doppelgangers.  Anthony Lane of The New Yorker described the film's final shot as "mind-ripping."  I agree.  Here's the trailer:


As I wrote in an earlier post, this film could be a primer on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  Written and directed by Sean Durkin, it stars a very talented Elizabeth Olsen (yes, sister to the twins Mary-Kate and Ashley) and  John Hawkes (yes, the one who is in a Sundance film every year).  Olsen's character has escaped Hawkes' character's cult--or has she?  At least that's the ambiguity Durkin would like us to leave us with--it didn't wash for me.  If you rent it, pay close attention to POV in the final sequence.  For those who don't recall this film at all, check out the trailers.  The first is the American one, and the second is the international one--the latter  emphasizing the darker/thriller aspects of the movie:



  1. Agree with all of these and I can't think of a film that I really liked that didn't make this list. In fact, you have a few I didn't see (frankly, never heard of...The Bellflower and Another Earth! Will have to check those out) I think this has been a rather sucky year for films overall and the current condition of the film industry depresses me. Most of the films that have been chosen by the Academy for best picture were just ok, not terrible films (The Descendents) but just ok. Others, like The Artist, were cute and had moments but moments and and a cute gimmick do not a great film make. I think the only one worthy of being on the list is Hugo and and surely hope it wins. Thanks for the post!

  2. Great article. Re: Scorses's panic over not having set list, that was contrived. I read they'd been doing the same set list every show and Scorsese knew it, but needed a hook for an open.

    1. Well, the hook worked! And as we know, all docs are contrived to some degree....